Triathlete Arwa Al-Amoudi racing to raise awareness of growing sport

Special Triathlete Arwa Al-Amoudi racing to raise awareness of growing sport
Arwa Al-Amoudi is a triathlete and Head of the Women's Committee at the Saudi Arabian Triathlon Federation. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Triathlete Arwa Al-Amoudi racing to raise awareness of growing sport

Triathlete Arwa Al-Amoudi racing to raise awareness of growing sport
  • Head of the women’s committee at the Saudi Arabian Triathlon Federation has been tasked with finding the next generation of local stars
  • Arwa Al-Amoudi: Just because of its (triathlon’s) diversity, you never get bored, every day you have different training in different sports

In Saudi Arabia triathlon may be a relatively new sport — or three sports in one — but it’s quickly catching on in a country where people are increasingly encouraged to shed a sedentary lifestyle and take up physical activities.

There’s no better promotor for the sport, among females and males, than Arwa Al-Amoudi, head of the women’s committee at the Saudi Arabian Triathlon Federation, and a triathlete herself.

“I started triathlon in 2017. Before that, I used to be a runner. I was the kind of person who would overtrain myself, and then I would get injuries,” she said. “But when I heard about the sport of triathlon, you know you have to swim, cycle and run, I said, okay, let me try it. And that’s the reason I tried triathlon from 2017, and then I got hooked on it. Just because of its diversity, you never get bored, every day you have different training in different sports.”

While running remains her strongest discipline, Al-Amoudi has now embraced all aspects of the triathlon.

“Actually, each one of them gives me a different kind of enjoyment,” the 35-year-old Jeddah resident said. “But if we’re talking about specifics, I would say it (running) is the easiest for me to improve, just because I have a longer history in it, years of running. Not only that, but also my body build, I tend to be petite and small, so it’s just easier for me to get faster and faster relative to people who are bigger in shape and density.”

Arguably, swimming is the hardest of the three sports to excel at for most newcomers.

“I would agree with that,” said Al-Amoudi. “Swimming I would say, if the person doesn’t have that basic foundation, from a younger age, it would be a bit harder to develop at an older age. But here we are, I started swimming at a later age, and what I had to do is just invest more time, of course, in swimming, relative to other people who have been swimming for years and years. But then, at the end of the day, if you are consistent, and this is the beauty of triathlon … it’s all about consistency, if you are consistent about it, then you will see the improvement.”

Al-Amoudi’s role at the national umbrella body has two main objectives.

“First is to spread awareness about the sport of triathlon, specifically among the female community, and in general among the whole community,” she said. “The second thing is, of course, we want to recruit talented females with the focus on the younger generation, because we have a long-term vision of having people represent us overseas, where they can also win and get podiums one day.”

With these medium-to-long term plans in place, the federation last month set up a 21-day training camp for 10 of its most promising triathletes, six male and four female.

The choice of Abha was very deliberate, Al-Amoudi said.

“It was three weeks in duration and the reason it was in Abha is because it is different than other cities,” she said. “Most of our athletes, they come from either the west region, in Jeddah or Riyadh, and Al-Sharqiyah. There are a few who live at altitude, but the majority they live in these major cities. The thing is that with these cities, they are at sea level and then when you go to Abha, it’s at a higher altitude.”

“So when you train at a higher altitude both the air pressure and density decreases, which makes it harder for the lungs, or which makes it harder to take in oxygen,” she added. “So we are taking these athletes to train at a higher altitude, so they can train their lungs to improve their oxygen intake. So when they race at sea level it becomes much easier.”

“As long as our athletes get the benefit of this, and then they leverage these trainings, I believe that they will see a marginal benefit in the short term and also in the long term.”

Already, Al-Amoudi sees a rising interest in the sport, despite its relative infancy, in particular among females.

“Actually, we already see the sport is growing, because (of) the local initiatives. Also with the support of the federation and the events that they are doing all year long, you see from one event to another an increase in participation,” she said. “You will also see diversity, whether it’s local or expat, whether it’s female or male. The beauty of triathlon, it’s an individual sport yet you can still do it in a team, or relay team.”

“Sometimes we see a family join as a team. So the son would be swimming, the father would be cycling and the wife or the daughter would be running.”

It’s all about building a community of triathletes, something the federation is keen to promote at grassroots level.

“Of course, this is part of our long-term plan,” she said. “As of now we are trying to build the community, and find the talent and of course, getting our triathletes to get the exposure. The good thing the federation is doing (are) the races, locally. So people are getting the feeling of how these races are contested and there they are getting the exposure, of racing with different people. Not only this, but also our athletes, some of them, are racing overseas and with this they will (be) building their experience.”

At a more competitive level, Al-Amoudi is keen to highlight that while there are events in the GCC and across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is increasingly holding enough races for its growing population of triathletes.

“Yes, and there are competitions at a regional level, but also when we look at a local level here within the Kingdom, the federation has been doing an amazing job, and in Q4 we have multiple races for all people here, and the beauty of it is that it’s in all locations,” she said. “So in Q4, we will have a race in Jeddah, and we will have a race in Riyadh, and we will have races in the eastern region as well.

“Sometimes, of course, people want to participate regionally and globally, or outside the Kingdom, but where the federation has done an amazing job is by providing or contesting races here at the local level. So a person like me, I don’t need to travel multiple times outside Saudi Arabia just to race. When I want to race more, I can get the experience … by racing right here.”


UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season
Updated 03 October 2022

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season

UAE Pro League: High-flying Sharjah maintain perfect start to season
  • Gabrielzinho Al-Wasl’s hero after two goals secure derby win over Al-Nassr
  • Last season’s runners-up Sharjah sustained the now sole 100 percent start with a 3-0 win at Khor Fakkan

Sharjah’s superstars showcased their collective might, Belgium center back Jason Denayer endured a chastening Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club debut and an electrified Al-Wasl exhibited flashes of brilliance in a fevered Bur Dubai derby when the ADNOC Pro League returned at the weekend.

A lively restart after the international break was headlined by a double strike from Al-Wasl’s Gabrielzinho in a raucous 2-1 win at Al-Nasr’s packed out Al-Maktoum Stadium. Former Barcelona ace Miralem Pjanic netted his second goal in UAE football and Greece center back Kostas Manolas didn’t put a foot wrong during his first appearance as last season’s runners-up Sharjah sustained the now sole 100 percent start with a 3-0 win at Khor Fakkan.

There was less joy for second-half substitute Denayer who witnessed new employers Shabab Al-Ahli go down 3-2 at expected strugglers Al-Dhafra.

Champions Al-Ain rebounded in a 3-0 beating of dark horses Ittihad Kalba, while Carlos Carvalhal ignored the noise surrounding him at Al-Wahda with an emphatic 4-0 victory at upstarts Al-Bataeh, although this result couldn’t prevent him becoming the campaign’s first managerial casualty.

Ex-Serbia youth international Sasa Ivkovic’s 94th-minute goal, meanwhile, saw Al-Jazira drop points for the first time with a 1-1 draw at Baniyas, and Morocco hit man Walid Azaro’s brace helped Ajman to a 3-1 win — their first of the campaign — against promoted Dibba Al-Fujairah.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the matchweek four action:

Player of the week: Gabrielzinho (Al-Wasl)

It was supposed to be the weekend when star power dominated. It was, though, a less-heralded addition from the division’s extensive summer trolley dash who shone brightest.

Gabrielzinho arrived to little fanfare at Zabeel Stadium from promoted Portuguese outfit Rio Ave in July. But the 26-year-old winger guaranteed himself Wasl supporters’ eternal affections with a decisive — and defining — brace in Saturday’s derby.

Each goal saw the ball move from the Wasl penalty box to their opponents’ at lightning speed. Each involved a youthful trident of emerging UAE golden child Ali Saleh, increasingly influential Argentina youth international Tomas Chancalay — unburdened about an eligibility row when on the pitch — and the Brazilian free agent.

The latter pair directly contributed to both goals. Chancalay’s ability to dribble and retain clear vision at high velocity was rewarded with both assists for Gabrielzinho — one finish into the roof, the other into the bottom left.

Al-Wasl had only 29 percent possession and lost the attempts count 16-9 on a night in which ex-AC Milan, Benfica and Morocco midfielder Adel Taarabt debuted for the opposing Blue Wave.

But expressive head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s blueprint was all over this. Center backs Aleksandar Vasiljevic and Soufiane Bouftini defended stoutly, allowing a vibrant attack — led by Gabrielzinho — space to plunder.

Goal of the week: Mohamed Rayhi (Al-Dhafra)

Remarkable goals and remarkable results adorned this round.

Toze’s unstoppable free kick was immaterial for Nasr, Azaro’s whipped second secured Ajman three points and Caio’s thunderbolt showed it’s not just the massive names who’ll stylishly deliver for Sharjah.

The best of all, however, came in the Western Region.

Mohamed Rayhi sparked bedlam amid Dhafra’s technical team as his measured, curled effort from 30 yards near the hour mark put the unfancied hosts 3-0 up against celebrated Shabab Al-Ahli.

This moment typified the defiance, ingenuity and skill required to prevail in such a mismatch.

It provided enough of a buffer to eventually win 3-2 and an injection of belief to hang on for this memorable first three-point haul of the season.

Coach of the week: Carlos Carvalhal (Al-Wahda)

Managers rarely field questions about their futures in the aftermath of a 4-0 victory.

This was, however, the case on Sunday for Carvalhal.

Disquiet and rancour after a winless beginning stained the build-up to a seemingly tricky trip to Bataeh. These issues were pushed to one side, for 90 minutes at least, in an uplifting performance on the east coast.

Portuguese sports daily O Jogo then reported after the final whistle about an impending exit for Carvalhal and return of Spain’s Manolo Jimenez. The former’s departure was then made official on Monday night, with the latter’s rehiring – he led them to fifth in 2019-20 eason – expected to imminently follow.

Carvalhal’s swansong saw ex-Everton and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan adding bite upon his opening start, with former Benfica skipper Pizzi buzzing around with seven key passes. 

Veteran striker Sebastian Tagliabue’s first goal back at the Al Nahyan Stadium-outfit – a 153rd in the top flight for them - supplied further gloss, in a fixture dominated by set-pieces.

Carvalhal - a coveted former Sporting Lisbon, Besiktas, Swansea City and Braga tactician – was just four months into a lucrative one-season deal. He swiftly leaves with barely an imprint made.

Local talent isn’t being crowded out

It would be curious to consult UAE head coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena about this unprecedented transfer window.

The former Boca Juniors, Villarreal and Argentina full back is patently aware of top-level demands. But there must be a degree of nervousness about opportunities afforded to potential Whites stars, especially after a scoreless international period which contained 1-0 and 4-0 friendly reversals to Paraguay and Venezuela.

Yet, the 47-year-old should be encouraged by the sight of six UAE-eligible scorers in matchweek four.

Mabkhout maintained his one-goal lead in the scoring chart, Wahda center back Fares Juma struck from a set piece, 20-year-old forward Ahmed Fawzi marked his Jazira-to-Dhafra loan with a goal and Shabab Al-Ahli wide man Yahya Al-Ghassani tapped home in vain.

Naturalized attackers Tagliabue and Caio Canedo also got in on the action.

It was this season’s joint highest round tally for UAE-eligible players. A fact given greater value as it followed the previous fortnight’s accumulation of more renowned foreigners.

Emirati players are responding positively, it seems.


Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
Updated 03 October 2022

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
  • Two red cards overshadowed the 0-0 draw between the Riyadh and Jeddah giants, while the reigning Saudi and Asian champions were stunned at home by Al-Taawoun

The Roshn Saudi League returned to action after the FIFA international break and while the eagerly awaited Classico between Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad didn’t produce a winner, there were plenty of highlights and surprises elsewhere. Below are five things we learned from round five.

1. Stubborn Al-Ittihad dig in for point at Al-Nassr

The stalemate in the Classico was not one of those vintage 0-0 draws and will be remembered for the two red cards. The first was given to Al-Ittihad midfielder Tarek Hamed for a bad tackle on Vincent Aboubakar just before the break, and the card that came after a video review provoked the biggest cheer of the evening.

The second was shown to Al-Nassr’s Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem, whose offense was similar, just before the hour.

In front of a full and hostile Mrsool Park in Riyadh, the dismissals were not a major surprise but even with 11 men, it looked as if Al-Ittihad, already without the injured Romarinho and Helder Costa, were content with a point and were happy to keep things tight. Being reduced to 10 men meant that coach Nuno Espírito Santo and his men really shut up shop to frustrate the hosts.

After the game, Nuno talked of the spirit his players demonstrated and it was impressive to see how compact, organized and focused the Tigers were. It wasn’t pretty but it got a result in their toughest game of the season so far and still, no team has scored against Al-Ittihad this season.

2. Al-Nassr shouldn’t be too down

There was no doubt that Al-Nassr were more disappointed than Al-Ittihad after their goalless draw. They dominated the game in an attacking sense and while coach Rudi Garcia was left talking about the Tigers’ defensive approach, his team had the possession, two-thirds of it, to win.

The standard of chances could have been better and the French boss was left to lament the absence of Pity Martinez with the Argentine playmaker expected to be out injured for the next month. Without him, there were chances created and almost 20 goal attempts but none of sufficient quality despite the best efforts of Abdulrahman Ghareeb, who had an impressive game.

Yet with Al-Ittihad in this mood and determined to keep a clean sheet, there are going to be a lot of frustrated teams this season when they play the Tigers. You have to take the chances that come your way and on this occasion, Al-Nassr just weren’t clinical enough but have four winnable games before their derby with Al-Hilal.

3. Al-Hilal fall to shock defeat to super Al-Taawoun

Before Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Al-Taawoun, Al-Hilal had played 20 league games in 2022 and lost just one, winning an amazing 18. This season there had been four wins from four without a single goal conceded. This consistency means that all have become accustomed to such excellence and the prospect of defeat was rarely entertained.

There was a similar shock back in May when they lost 1-0 to Al-Feiha only to bounce back to take 30 points from the next 30. This could well be just another blip. On another day, Al-Hilal who had 50 percent more possession and shots would have won.

But the headlines should not be all about the defending champions as Al-Taawoun deserve plenty of plaudits. A team that just escaped relegation last season had taken eight points from the first four games. Now it is 11 from five as they sit in fourth.

The spirit is there, as is, increasingly, the confidence. When Michael opened the scoring for Al-Hilal, finishing a fine move with a flashing low shot just before the half hour, it seemed as if another regulation win for the Riyadh giants was coming. However, Sumayhan Al-Nabit leveled just before the break after Abdullah Al-Mayouf came for a cross and did not collect.

Then when star striker Leandre Tawamba was sent off after 65 minutes, it looked over once again for Al-Taawoun, but nine minutes later, Fahad Al-Rashidi grabbed what turned out to be the winner. It was a stunning result.

4. Injury problems and solutions for Al-Hilal

Coach Ramon Diaz has similar worries to national team boss Herve Renard. Every team in Asia would miss two crucial attacking players of the class of Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari. Full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani also was absent and then there were the likes of Jang Hyun-soo on the bench, weakening the defense still further.

But amid the gloom of the injuries and the result, there were two bright points on the bench in Abdulelah Al-Malki and Saleh Al-Shehri. The midfielder and attacker had been out with serious injuries for months and were looking unlikely to return to the national team squad in time for the World Cup.

Whether they go to Qatar is still touch and go as neither have played any competitive minutes yet. That will need to change very soon if they are to be named in the Saudi Arabian squad but Al-Hilal fans won’t care as two of their biggest domestic stars are near a return. And, with the team slipping to defeat, they may get a chance on the pitch sooner rather than later.

5. Moustafa Zeghba shows that it’s not all about the big boys

There was an amazing moment on Saturday as Damac defeated Al-Tai 2-0 to maintain their good start to the season. That is not the main story, however, as the second goal was one that will never be forgotten. There seemed to be no danger when the Algerian shotstopper picked up the ball in his own area.

But then his looping kick downfield bounced in the middle of the Al-Tai half. His opposite number Victor Braga was standing around the penalty spot and slowly realized what was happening, and it was the goalkeeper’s worst nightmare. There was nothing the Brazilian could do as the ball looped over his head and outstretched arm and into the net.

It meant that Zeghba becomes the fifth goalkeeper in the SPL’s history to get on the scoresheet and the first since 2020. While his smile was wide when he was congratulated by his delighted teammates, there must have been some sympathy for Braga.


World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
Updated 03 October 2022

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship

World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz set for Middle East debut at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
  • Winner of September’s US Open, the 19-year-old Spaniard — the youngest male to reach the top of the ATP rankings — is heading to Abu Dhabi this December

ABU DHABI: World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz is set make his Middle East debut this December at the 14th Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

The Spaniard, who won the US Open last month and in doing so became the youngest male to reach the top of the ATP world rankings, will take to the court at the International Tennis Center at Zayed Sports City from Dec. 16-18.

Alcaraz, who turned 19 in May, will lead a line-up of six of the world’s best men’s players, and they will be joined by women’s World No.2 Ons Jabeur and British No.1 Emma Raducanu who will also face-off on Day 1 of the championship.

Alcaraz’s victory at Flushing Meadows in September was his sixth ATP Tour singles title and his fifth in 2022. Competing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship for the first time, he will follow in the footsteps of superstars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and his hero — and five-time winner in the UAE capital — Rafael Nadal.

“I can’t wait to participate in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi,” said Alcaraz, “I’ve seen a lot of players take part in the tournament, and everyone really looks forward to it.”

Championship owner Flash Entertainment confirmed two more of the six-player men’s line-up will be revealed in the coming days and reiterated its commitment to bringing the sport’s biggest and best players to the region. Alcaraz certainly fits that bill.

“World No.1, Carlos Alcaraz has had an incredible year after becoming the youngest ATP 500 champion in Rio de Janeiro back in February to winning the US Open a few weeks ago,” said John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment. “MWTC has a history of getting the top players to compete in Abu Dhabi; it’s a promise we’ve never had any qualms about making to the tennis fans in the region and we have fulfilled that once again. I have no doubt spectators will enjoy seeing Carlos compete here for the first time, and we are excited to see such a sensational young talent and new generation of superstar at the championship.”


Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress
Updated 03 October 2022

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress

Saudi Arabia’s 4-0 win over South Korea not enough for 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup progress
  • Green Falcons finished third in Group D on goal difference and miss out on quarterfinals at tournament in Kuwait

A comprehensive 4-0 win by Saudi Arabia over South Korea on Sunday night was still not enough to see the Green Falcons progress to the last eight of the 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup taking place at the Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Hall in Kuwait.

The day’s other match in Group D saw Japan beat Vietnam 2-0.

The Green Falcons’ win in the final group fixture means they end their campaign with six points from nine, the same tally as Japan and Vietnam. However, Saudi finished third in the standings on goal difference.

Saudi Arabia had lost 3-1 to Vietnam in their second match of tournament on Friday when a win would have ensured progress from Group D to the quarterfinals, after they had launched their campaign on Monday with a 2-1 win over Japan.

The 16-team tournament kicked off on Sept. 27 and will conclude on Oct. 8.


How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
Updated 03 October 2022

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia

How Ons Jabeur helped bring WTA tennis to Tunisia
  • A chance conversation with IMG’s Vickie Gunnarsson in Abu Dhabi last December paved the way for the establishment of Jasmin Open

Although she refuses to take credit for it, Ons Jabeur has played a crucial role in bringing a WTA tournament to her home country of Tunisia for the very first time, and the popular world No.2 will be the main attraction when the event kicks off in Monastir on Monday.

The Jasmin Open is just the second tournament on the WTA calendar taking place in North Africa and it came to life thanks to a conversation Jabeur had with IMG’s Vickie Gunnarsson at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) in Abu Dhabi last December.

Gunnarsson, the director of IMG tennis events and tournament director of the MWTC, got to witness Jabeur’s talent and charm up close when the Tunisian was brought in as a late replacement for a Covid-stricken Emma Raducanu at the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi 10 months ago.

Jabeur dazzled the crowd with her unique and playful game style and connected with the kids during the clinics and autograph sessions she took part in away from the match court.

The interest in tennis in Tunisia, North Africa and the Arab world has shot through the roof over the past couple of seasons thanks to Jabeur’s history-making feats that saw her reach back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the US Open this summer and become the highest-ranked Arab player and African woman in history.

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif has also played a part as she cracked the top 50 earlier this season and became the first from her country to lift a WTA trophy just last Saturday in Parma.

IMG, one of the key players in the global tennis industry, recognize the potential for the sport in North Africa and Gunnarsson floated the idea of staging a WTA tournament in Tunisia to Jabeur while chatting on the sidelines of the MWTC last year.

“It’s the WTA sanction we had in Rio de Janeiro, which has moved a little bit; ended up in China, and now we had to find a new home for it,” Gunnarsson told Arab News of the origin story of the Jasmin Open.

“It was actually after Ons Jabeur came to Abu Dhabi last year and I chatted with her. I asked her, ‘You’re Tunisian and tennis seems to be booming there and you’re a great role model, do you think Tunisia would be interested in hosting a WTA 250 event? It was a wild chance, right?

“She said, ‘Actually yes, tennis is huge in Tunisia now and it’s growing, so let’s give it a shot’. So she introduced me to Salma (Mouelhi-Guizani), the president of the Tunisian Tennis Federation, and we started talking and Salma was like, ‘Yes, we want to do this’.”

 

 

IMG have leased the tournament to the Tunisian federation for three years but are supporting the hosts by sending a team to Monastir – a coastal city south of Tunis – to help them put it all together.

“We want it to be a success. They have an option to continue after three years and we want them to as well. Hopefully the tournament is successful here and we can continue, that’s the goal really,” added Gunnarsson.

The venue is the Magic Life Skanes hotel, a beachfront resort providing courts and facilities to host the tournament as well as accommodation, all in one site. A new 2,500 capacity center court was constructed just for the event and two more courts were transformed into show courts.

“Here it’s an incredible time for tennis,” said Gunnarsson during a video call from Tunisia.

“We had a press conference with Ons two weeks leading up to the event in Tunis and the place was packed, for a 250 tournament; everybody was there for Ons and to follow what’s going to happen. It’s a big deal for them, they’ve never had this big of an event.”

Jabeur, who does her preseason training blocks at the same venue in Monastir every year, is proud to see her homeland stage a WTA tournament and says it’s a “dream come true”.

“Honestly I’m surprised with how amazing the organization is here, given how little time they had to prepare for it. I know people working at the hotel and everyone managing the hotel and the federation really want this to be successful,” Jabeur told Arab News on Sunday.

“I’m very proud that they’re organizing this in Tunisia. I’ve been asking the players if they need anything; it feels like I’m the one hosting the tournament for some reason, I think it’s an Arab thing. I’m very happy with the way the tournament is going. I’m very excited to play here.”

Is she knocking on her fellow players’ doors offering room service?

“Literally I was going to do that. I was asking if they have the almond milk and everything. I was teasing the players, saying, ‘Look at this beach view, you don’t have this in Ostrava’,” laughed Jabeur, referring to the WTA tournament taking place simultaneously in Ostrava, Czech Republic this week.

 

While she is aware of her role in boosting tennis as a whole in Tunisia and the Arab and African region, Jabeur believes all she did to help the Jasmin Open get off the ground was “connect the right people at the right time”.

“I don’t want to take credit for an amazing thing that the federation did with Vickie, with the hotel, to build the center court at such short notice, with all the authorization. I feel like I didn’t do anything about this, I just connected people at the right time,” said the 28-year-old star.  

Jabeur has taken the opportunity to show her fellow players all that Tunisia has to offer, inviting them over for vacations in hopes to boost her nation’s tourism.

Monastir hosts lower-level ITF tournaments 52 weeks a year, following a model initially adopted by Egypt, where the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh had been doing that for years. The idea is to raise the hotel’s occupancy by having tennis players around all season, while also providing young up-and-comers from the region the opportunity to contest smaller tournaments to move up the rankings without spending too much money on travel.

“It gives a solid platform from the grassroots. It’s very smart and it’s taken them a few years to be ready to have these big tournaments; Egypt should also be ready for a big one I think, especially now with Mayar Sherif. So I think that’s super exciting,” explained Gunnarsson.

“I think on the men’s side they would be up for it too, for sure I think men’s tennis is also very popular here, especially on the grassroots level. The women are the most successful currently at the top but I’m sure there will be men coming up as well.”

 

 

On the back of Sherif’s recent success, there has been interest from Cairo to host a WTA tournament and the Egyptian is keen to see tennis develop more and more in her nation.

“My whole life I believed that Egypt has incredible talent, we have unbelievable potential; we just lack the system,” said Sherif.

“At the moment, we have a lot of $15k tournaments, we have a lot of ITFs, so many tournament weeks, and that encourages young players to come up. What’s missing is a proper system.

“Myself, as Mayar, I believe my tennis career is only the start of my journey. I really wish to help young girls come up and make it in the sport, because I believe it’s very, very possible.

“Ons, and myself, we have given them that belief, they don’t have an excuse not to believe anymore. So to stage a WTA 250 tournament in the region, for them to watch us live and to see how we’re not too far, that’s huge, and hopefully this will impact the next generations.”

 

 

Gunnarsson believes success on the tennis court can only go so far and recognizes that the special qualities Jabeur possesses are the real driver behind her popularity and influence.

“I think she is an incredible role model. I think a lot of people can identify with her, she’s very personable, a really good person, and she’s funny, she’s got humor, it’s like she has the responses ready when people tease her or ask her questions,” said Gunnarsson.

“I think also the Minister of Happiness thing (Jabeur’s nickname); people here in Tunisia really embrace that. It’s been tough times for a long time now… they needed that person to represent happiness to them and that’s what she’s become, especially in Tunisia.

“I can see Ons here, the impact that she has, and I think tennis alone won’t do it, but I think she has the character also. She’s super charming and people just love that. They were joking the other day when Tunisia played a football game, they were saying they should put Ons on the pitch. Everybody is talking about Ons.

“Mayar seems to be a charismatic person as well, so I think she has tremendous potential to be something similar to Ons. It helps when the tennis and personality go hand in hand.”

 

 

Jabeur will return to Abu Dhabi again this December for the MWTC, where she will face 2021 US Open champion Raducanu in an exhibition clash.

“I think it’s going to be significant. It’s the best line-up,” said Gunnarsson of the Abu Dhabi showpiece.

“I think Ons drives so much interest from the Arab world, and that’s who we want to inspire in the first place. When the tournament was set up initially 13 years ago to grow the interest for sports in the region and get more people moving and active and stuff, especially Arabs.

“So Ons works perfectly for the goals of the tournaments, she fulfills all those objectives and she is a huge role model, so we’re very excited about that.”

For Jabeur, she hopes this tournament in Tunisia is just the start and hopes to see more big events pop up in the region.

“Hopefully we can have like a small tour of several tournaments here in Africa one day,” she added.

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